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Selecting leathers for the racetrack

Discussion in 'Riding Gear and Bike Accessories/Parts' started by ozmotorcycleleathers, Jan 26, 2012.

  1. My partner Irena, wrote this for the nswrats forum. It's not the be all and end all of leathers, but hopefully some people may find it useful.



    I seem to spend a lot of time these days discussing leathers with Ed. We both often say "People need to educate themselves about leathers" so I put this together just to cover some basic points.

    Most of you know, I've been a garment technician all my life and exclusively repairing and altering riding gear for three years now. I get pretty much every brand brought into the shop and also do insurance work as well as warranty issues for a couple of major suppliers.

    It's not so important what brand people go for, but customers should be able to recognise what they're buying. Recent government testing found that one in four suits available on the market failed basic safety tests and I think this will only get worse with the recent flood of cheap suits on the market.

    We don't need to discuss the benefits of one piece vs. two piece, leather vs. textile, benefits of race humps etc. We're all experienced and probably have a good idea already what to look for when selecting leathers, so I'll try and keep this to a few basic points.

    Go with a brand that you believe to be reputable.
    Most of the big names in the business now outsource their production to places like China and Pakistan. While that usually means the quality isn't the same as it once was, most of their products are still fairly reliable.
    Recently, we've seen a lot of regular joes start to market their own brands of leathers, under the guise of "Australian owned". What the customer gets for trying to support a local "manufacturer" is a cheaply made suit from a less reputable country that may or may not hold together in a spill. Either way, the bottom line is I have yet to see one of these suits that I would rely on in a crash.

    If you're going to buy a suit made by mass production in a country known for cheap labour, I would ensure it's at least backed by a reputable brand. Also be aware of ebay bargains of big name brands from China. These are not factory leakage, these are fakes and again, usually a waste of money.

    Have a good look at the construction of the suit.
    Don't listen to the talk from the sales staff, use your own judgement to determine whether a suit is worth shelling out your hard earned money on. Stitching should be regular and evenly spaced along seams ie: the line shouldn't wander in and out from the edge. It doesn't necessarily weaken the seam, but it is a good indicator of a rushed job. Seams should always have a hidden row of stitching, top stitching on a major seam, however many rows they use, is unacceptable. Don't be shy to have a good look at seams and armour.

    Good leather should be soft and supple. Pay no attention to thickness, the GP racers are mostly wearing 0.9mm kangaroo hide and you don't see them walking around with their arses hanging out after a low speed spill. Double layers around impact areas are a good idea, but quality of leather is far more important than how thick it is, which only really gives an illusion of strength.

    Actually, I'd like to point out something most people don't appreciate : The CE approved armour that is found in most modern suits has a shelf life and should be replaced once it reaches 5 years old. Like tyres, the rubber will degrade over time eventually becoming brittle. At first, it may not be noticeable to the touch, but it's impact absorbing abilities will deteriorate over time. If you have a suit in for repairs or alterations, it's often a good idea to get the armour inspected and replaced if necessary.

    Any good, modern race suit should have CE approved armour, stretch fabric containing keprotec (or similair) on the inside of arms and legs and shirred panels above the knees, behind the shoulders and on the lower back. The inclusion of these doesn't necessarily mean that the suit is well made, but I wouldn't consider anything that didn't have them.


    Try it on for size.
    Again, we all know this, but good fitting leathers are fundamental to safety. Leather will relax and mold around your body, to a certain extent, over time, so as long as the length is ok, the armour doesn't dig in and the suit allows you to move around on the bike, some initial tightness is fine. Crotch to knee, shoulder to elbow and shoulder to shoulder are important points for a good fit.

    If you need to go made to measure, expect to pay accordingly. If you are going to buy a suit with the intention of getting it altered, consider how much labour is involved. It's easier to shorten a sleeve than lengthen it, but still not a big job compared to having to add or remove across the shoulders or hips. Give me a call if you have any questions.

    Consider the price.
    There's a huge variation in the cost of leather suits, roughly from $500 to $2500. There's also a huge variation in the quality of leather suits, but the two aren't always connected. Unless you go second hand, there's very few suits towards the bottom end of the scale that are high quality, but as long as the customer is happy that they are getting what they pay for, that's fine. Not everyone can afford a customised suit and we appreciate that, but I would strongly advise against letting your wallet dictate your choice of leathers. After all, what's the difference in price sometimes, a set of tyres? Two sets? Motorcycling is an expensive hobby in all it's forms, but my personal take is this :

    If I am going to ride at high-ish speeds on road or track, I would rather be wearing a suit that is made to a specification rather than a budget.

    I regularly get customers coming in for repairs, where they have come off their bikes at medium speed (say 100kmph) and the suit has split a major seam or the asphalt has worn a hole. If the suit has torn apart in a slow speed to medium speed slide, say turn 2 at Eastern Creek, what do you think would happen if somebody knocks you off in turn 1? At the track you run the same risks as racers, even greater due to the varying standards of riders. Perhaps you're also more likely to be injured than an athlete who keeps himself in good physical condition, so why should you be less equipped?

    Most suits made by a reputable manufacturer should hold together for a couple of medium speed crashes, although it's impossible to account for every variation in the event of a spill. If you do have an accident, and are in any doubt as to the integrity of your leathers, bring them in or catch up with us at the track. Repairs are often fairly simple and I'll usually give you a few options depending on how far you want to go.

    As always, opinions are free.


    Oz Motorcycle Leathers

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